Outside of publication, Rose has a strong interest in spoken-word, and has performed at Modwords Cork and Waterford Writers Weekend. Rose has also worked as a columnist for the Waterford News and Star for past three years.
Guide to Hauntings
1. Inherit a house from your aunt Mary.
You were never close to her, but you did not dislike her. She powdered her face with talcum and shaved her eyebrows and wore bright red lipstick, no other makeup. Her lips were thin, and her slash of mouth looked like an open wound when she smiled. She watched, but rarely spoke.
You will not be surprised to inherit the house, because everyone else is dead.
You won’t need the house; you have an apartment of your own in the city. An apartment, roommates, a job. A life. You used to have friends as well, but you haven’t seen much of them since Will. They were his friends, more than your friends. You used to have a Will. You no longer have a Will.
You will not need the house but will decide that you need a break. Pack quickly. Ring work and ask for time off. Put the hoodie that he left behind on and throw your bag into the backseat of the car.
Drive away. Drive faster than you normally would. You will want to play music, to turn the volume up so high that the bass turns your brains to jelly. You will not do this, because the only CD in the car is the mixtape he left in the slot.
Instead, open the windows wide and open your mouth wider. The air will hit the back of your throat like a punch, so hard you choke on it. Let it fill your lungs to bursting point. You would not be able to scream if you wanted to. Try to scream anyway.
When you get there, open the door and be surprised by the amount of dust. Evening sunlight will pour through the open windows of the hall, causing the dust particles to glow. They will hover in the air, like something solid, thick as honey. Breathe in heavy gold. Do not let it back out.
2. Unpack your things.
You will not bring much, just a couple of bags which you drag up the stairs. The steps are a musical instrument, giving off creaks and squeaks and moans with every movement you make.
Place your bags down on the bed of your aunts’ room. There’s many rooms upstairs and you could pick any; it’s a country house, large, sprawling. But you will not. You will take one owned by someone else. The room will be musty, cluttered with her things and will smell faintly of perfume. Put your things in empty drawers. Feel curious about the ones that are not empty.
Drag your hands across the surfaces, pick up the photo frames. Mary is alone in most of them, or with her sisters. Finger the knickknacks. Post cards and porcelain dogs and jewelled boxes filled with rings and feathers and buttons. Open her drawers; starched blouses, beige bras, socks with holes in the sole. You will find a dildo at the very back. You will feel like a voyeur but that will not make you stop.
Root around in her wardrobe. Slip on the black heels that you find, a size too big, sticking out over your tracksuit bottoms. You will find a pile of paper at the back, thin and fragile as flower pressings. Letters. You won’t understand the handwriting; messy, slanted, hectic. You will make out words at random: purple, mine, lungs, sea, run. They will all be signed off ‘Yours’. They are all from the same person, but you will not be able to make out the name. You will catch parts, but never the whole.
Take one of the letters to bed with you, running your fingers back and forth across the paper as your breathing slows. Fall asleep with the lights on, clutching something that does not belong to you.
3. Be woken by a loud noise in the middle of the night.
A deep heavy bang will jolt you from sleep; the shock of it will feel like someone dropping your lungs into snow. Jolt upwards. The room will be black, although you will not remember turning off the lights. Blink into the darkness, dense as molasses.
Slug your way through the treacle dark to the light switch. Flick it on. Jerk back.
Letters will plaster the walls, the ceiling. Hundreds of them.
Ink will run from most of them, leaking on to the walls. Spin in a circle. The clear words will leap out at you- purple, mine, lungs, sea, run.
Be unsure what to do. Feel scared, but uncertain. Should you gasp? Should you cry? Should you scream? Watch yourself from a distant cinema screen. Imagine yourself in a billowing white gown, fainting dramatically into the arms of a dark figure.
Do none of these things. Pick up a pillow, a blanket and your phone. Take them with you to the bathroom downstairs. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Double lock it. Climb into the bathtub with your blanket and pillow and try to make yourself comfortable. Go on to Wills’ Facebook page and scroll through the photos he has been tagged in.
Will, tanned, on the beach. Will at a party, a girl touching his arm, her face blurred. Will lying in the grass in a park, a sliver of stomach showing as he laughs in the direction of a woman with a pixie cut.
Click on her page next. Scroll through her tagged photos. Compare your heights, your waists, the size of her breasts and yours. Her eyes are very blue. Yours are not.
Keep clicking, until the sun comes up. You will not fall back asleep until then.
4. Almost drown in the bathtub.
Roll over in your sleep, breathing in slow and deep. Take liquid into your lungs, wake up spluttering and thrashing.
The bathtub will be full of ink. It will soak through your clothes, into your skin. You will be bruise blue, stained to the bone.
A figure will stand at the foot of the bath, looking at you. The outline of a man plastered in paper.
‘Your breasts are about the same size as hers, really,’ he will say.
The outline of a man will disappear, and letters will float to the floor in his place.
Drag yourself from the bathtub, sopping and heavy. Walk to the kitchen, leaving blue footprints in your wake. Open your laptop and google the word ‘ghost’.
You will find definitions.
An apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear to the living, typically as a nebulous image.
A slight trace or vestige of something.
Vestige; a small trace of something that was once greater.
Did you know that the word ghost finds its origins in the proto-Indo-European root ‘to rage’? That the old Latin word for ghost, ‘spiritus’, was a synonym for ‘breath’? That not all ghosts are dead?
Now you do. You will click, click. Let the words swirl round in your stomach.
Image, spirit, breath.
Something that was once greater.
Parts, never the whole.
6. Talk to the ghost.
Come prepared in battle armour. Spray yourself in your dead aunts’ perfume. Rim your lips with red. Put on a white slip from her wardrobe. It will cling to you in the wrong places; she was a smaller woman than you.
Light candles in her bedroom, play her old vinyl’s that scratch and whine in the gloom. Close your eyes and think of the taste of the night sky.
‘I mean, you could have just said hello.’
Open your eyes. The figure of a man lined with letters at the foot of the bed.
‘Hello,’ you will say.
His head will move up and down, examining you.
‘You don’t look one bit like her, you know. Not one bit,’ he will say.
Think about apologizing for this. Do not apologize.
‘Have you ever heard of a fetch?’ you will ask instead.
The ghost will scratch his head.
‘A fetch? It’s a ghost, the ghost of a person who is still alive, to the best of my knowledge,’ he will say.
‘Are they real?’ you will ask.
‘As real as I am,’ he’ll reply.
‘Are you real?’
‘Is the past ever very real?’
‘That’s a rubbish answer,’ you will say.
He will stop smiling.
‘Yes, yes it is,’ he will say.
7. Summon it.
Summoning is a tricky business. It requires procedure, ingredients, intention. But the man lined with letters will give you the recipe when you ask.
Take the mixtape out of the car and play it so loud that you can’t hear yourself think.
Open a bottle of wine and drink it from a mug while crooning out the words of his favourite song.
Burn a lock of your hair. Takes the ashes, mix them with honey and the blood of a new born dove. Smear the paste across your lips, your eyelids. Take a picture of this and put it on your Snapchat story.
Go outside and strip, wearing nothing but his hoodie. Dance until your feet bleed. Let the moon lick your skin. Howl until the wolves come. Let them fuck you in the toilet of a nightclub while their friends take a video.
Crawl from the club to the forest on your hands and knees and rub yourself in the dirt. Eat every rock in the forest until your stomach splits open. Check his Facebook in the forest while lying in a pile of your own entrails.
Bury your entrails in the ground and wait until a crow claws its way out of the earth. There will be a piece of paper in the crow’s beak. There will be number that you deleted from your phone months ago on the paper. Dial the number.
‘Hello?’ the ghost will say.
‘Hey,’ you will reply. The ghost will sigh.
‘Jane, please stop doing this. I asked you to stop contacting me. Just, just stop,’ he will say. The ghost will then hang up.
The man lined with paper will lead you up to bed, put the blanket over you.
‘Sorry,’ he will say,’ Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.’
8.Banish the ghost.
Gather up all the letters. The words that you can understand will stick into you like blades.
Take all the parts that you understand and scribble them out with a pen until you can’t see them anymore.
Take the letters and place them in the bathtub. Go get the mixtape and snap it in half and throw it in there too. Piss on his hoodie and give it to the crow to eat. Slit the crows throat and drop it in the tub. Delete his messages. Block him on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram.
Get gasoline from the basement. Pour it over everything in the tub. Set the lot on fire. Watch the whole thing burn.
The man lined with letters will watch you while you do this, looking at you with something that could be pity, or something that could be tiredness.
‘Did you really think that would work?’ he will ask.
‘Not really,’ you will say.
9. Perform a cleansing ritual.
The man lined with letters will not know how to do this and will not be able to advise.
But you will know. You have always known how to do this, even if you weren’t always aware.
Go take a shower, not a bath. Turn the temperature so high it hurts. Scrub at your skin until all your blue bleeds away. Watch the ink wash away down the drain.
Put on an oversized t-shirt that is clean, and your softest socks.
Sweep away the ashes and bleach the bathtub until it gleams.
Pour salt around the boundaries of the house.
Throw out the milk that has gone mouldy in the fridge.
Reply to the concerned texts from Susan from work.
Pack your aunts’ things into boxes.
Make tea brewed with holy water, mint and the memory of bright light on Winter mornings.
Light a white candle in every room.
Let ice melt on your tongue.
Say the word ‘Yes’ over and over until it is the only word the walls can remember.
When it rains, open up all the windows so that the house can remember what the sky tastes like.
Cry until the house floods.
Fall asleep in laundered sheets that smell of fresh linen.
10. Say goodbye to the ghost.
You will meet the man lined with letters on the front porch, not in the bedroom of a dead person.
You will not smile at him, but you will take his hand and hold it. You will sit down on the porch together, and he will put his paper arm around you while you email an estate agent about selling the house.
You will have avoided looking directly at the ghost for the entirety of this trip. You will have looked at the outline of him. The shape of the ghost is all you know, because you don’t know if you will live through seeing the sum of him. But now is the time to be brave.
Look at the ghost. It will feel like thrusting your hand in a deep fat fryer. Keep your hand in the oil until the pain feels as clean and clear as a crescendo. Look at him for five hundred seconds. Or for five hundred years. However long it takes. However long you need.
Do not say goodbye to him in words. Kiss him on the cheek and rise. Walk away.
(Look back, if you need to. You will need to. That is okay.)
Put one foot in front of the other. Do it again. Do this over and over again for the rest of your life.
Climb into your car. Drive away, slower than the way you came.
Take your time coming home. You’ll get there, eventually.
I watch my father lose his father.
Toast crunched, tea drunk,
we unload the dishwasher.
Crouched by him, I gather
serving spoons with silver tongues,
he is losing his father.
Stacking things in order,
flasks at the back, China cups in front.
I pull out the bottom drawer.
A puddle of water,
shaped like a lung.
Black tar in his father.
He wonders why it isn’t stronger,
are the wires overstrung?
I shut the door of the dishwasher.
Honestly, why bother?
With every crumb, our effort undone.
Father pays to drain his father,
I scatter salt in the dishwasher.
The F Train
She had her yearly metrocard and a whole lot of time. Every day, at eleven a.m., she would take the F train from Brooklyn to Coney Island, or up to 179th street in Harlem and back, only alighting on the platform to switch back to the Brooklyn bound train. This was how she filled her time; riding back and forth, back and forth, all day long in the company of strangers. At eleven a.m. the lines were never overcrowded. It was an easy time to begin her commute. Most people were already at work or school, depending on season.
She would fill the time with counting. Ten passengers in the carriage at Ninth and Seventh, six boarding at Bergen, three alighting. By the time they reached Harlem, the carriage would be almost empty. Occupied by only herself, and perhaps an older man with grey dust on his skin or a young woman, shaking and sweating in another world beside her. She would watch the other passengers, catching glimpses of God in a woman’s filmy eyes or carving out rail-routes in the scraggy skin around old men’s fingernails, following patches of psoriasis from their elbows to their wrists. The carriage would sway from side to side, feeling loose on the tracks, until she felt her own body fall into a rhythm, akin to the crystal-lady’s rocking beside her.
One day she interrupted her usual route. She alighted at Jay Street to walk the brownstone lined streets. She moved fast, pounding the sidewalk until her shin bones were sore. She counted the signs; a reminder to ‘curb your dog’ at the corner of every block, protestations mourning modern America hanging in the windows on the left, stars and stripes shrouding the gardens on the right. She picked her way past dog walkers, mailmen, mothers and fathers. She walked the perimeter of Fort Greene park, the laughter of children whistling through her. An hour or two later and she was back on the platform once again, waiting for the F to Coney Island. Maybe she would see holidaying families, happy and beach bound.
Lost in her inner world, full of anticipation and distraction, she paid little attention to the people around her. She was only ever interested in the commuters when they were on the train. She didn’t register the bending mother, a slap of admonition sounding skin to skin on her son’s hand, nor did she register the homeless man who had jumped the turnstile, only to lean against the wall beside her. Similarly, she never saw the youth standing too far beyond the yellow line, teetering as though he were balancing on the breeze. She didn’t see the anxious jitter of his hands, the brown eyes that wouldn’t still, the sweat above his lip, trapped between baby hairs.
She heard it though. The screeching on metallic tracks, the butcher-house thud and crack, the gut-weighted silence of afterwards.
11 Apr 2017
my body lay like I had thrown her,
into the bath.
one leg, fat, white,
strewn over the shallow bath wall,
arms tossed behind her head
reaching for cool tiles.
she is tiny there,
unnoticed and beautiful as
the birdsong peeking through
the open window.